Lawmakers seek to rescind Medals of Honor from soldiers at Wounded Knee massacre

Three House members are calling for Congress to posthumously rescind Medals of Honor awarded to 20 U.S. soldiers who participated in the 1890 Wounded Knee massacre, where an estimated 250 Native Americans -- mostly women and children -- were killed.

Rep. Paul Cook, R-Calif., and Democrats Denny Heck of Washington and Deb Haaland of New Mexico introduced the Remove the Stain bill Tuesday to strip the soldiers of America's highest military award.

“It bothers me as a professional military person and as a historian … with not only the massacre and the slaughter and with everything that happened to a group of people, but basically to perpetuate a lie that is associated with the highest award we have for valor,” said Cook, a decorated Marine veteran of the Vietnam War, according to the Washington Times.

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Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., cries while speaking as Rep. Denny Heck, D-Wash., and Rep. Paul Cook, R-Calif., listen during a news conference Tuesday, June 25, 2019, on Capitol Hill in Washington. Advocates for Native Americans called for Congress to revoke the Medals of Honor given to the U.S. soldiers who participated in the Wounded Knee massacre. (AP Photo/Kali Robinson)

Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., cries while speaking as Rep. Denny Heck, D-Wash., and Rep. Paul Cook, R-Calif., listen during a news conference Tuesday, June 25, 2019, on Capitol Hill in Washington. Advocates for Native Americans called for Congress to revoke the Medals of Honor given to the U.S. soldiers who participated in the Wounded Knee massacre. (AP Photo/Kali Robinson)

Medals of Honor were given to 20 soldiers from the U.S. 7th Calvary Regiment for their actions in the Dec. 29, 1890 massacre in South Dakota's Pine Ridge Indian Reservation near Wounded Knee Creek. The U.S. government was seeking to annex the Great Sioux Reservation, a breaking of the 1868 Treaty of Laramie, which stated the tribe would settle in the Black Hills in what was then the Dakota Territory.

Haaland, a Native American, said the trauma of Wounded Knee runs deep among descendants of the victims.

"I know that so many things are long overdue for native people in this country," she said at a news conference to introduce the bill, flanked by Cook, Heck and Native American activists.

She said the legislation is “a marker and shows that our country is finally on its way to recognizing the atrocities committed against our native communities, the paper reported.

More than 30 soldiers died at Wounded Knee, in addition to the hundreds of native Americans killed.

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O.J. Semans, co-founder of Four Directions, a Native American voting rights organization, pushed for the legislation after President Trump mocked Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., for her Native American ancestry claims.

"They didn't award any medals at My Lai," Bret Healy, a Four Directions consultant and strategist, said of the 1968 My Lai massacre in which hundreds of unarmed villagers were killed by U.S. Army soldiers in Vietnam.

On Wounded Knee's centenary in 1990, Congress apologized for the massacre but did not revoke the medals. In 1996, late GOP Sen. John McCain, then chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, said the massacre did not warrant taking away the medals.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.